Sometimes, even the best journalists don’t get it right. The The New York Times was accused of normalizing white nationalism after profiling a Nazi sympathizer on November 25th.
The story in question was written by Richard Fausset, and is about Tony Hovater, a Nazi sympathizer living in Ohio. Fausset’s piece does not discuss the dangers of the white nationalist (aka white supremacist) movement, and instead focuses on Hovater’s everyday life. The profile opens by detailing Hovater’s wedding registry and describes Hovater as “polite and low-key.” Later, Fausset includes a quote from Hovater in which he says he approaches white nationalism in a “mid-90s, Jewish, New York, observational humor way.”
Readers criticized Fausset’s portrayal of Hovater as just an average guy, and many wrote that the article normalized white supremacy while trivializing Hovater’s prejudiced views. Some also noted that the piece failed to say anything new about white nationalists.
Fausset also attempted to justify the piece, writing an editorial explaining his approach. He explains that in profiling Hovater, he wanted to explore the motives of a white supremacist, but after his initial meeting with Hovater, he realized he didn’t get the information he needed. In a follow-up phone call with Hovater, he said he still didn’t find his answers.
While we understand what Fausset was attempting to do, at the end of the day, he — and The New York Times — made a serious oversight. White nationalism is dangerous and antithetical to a free, tolerant, and safe society for all, and that should always be made clear.
In the profile, Hovater noted that one of the goals of the white nationalist movement is to get the general public to view it, as well as Nazi sympathizers, as normal. By not challenging Hovater’s views in their profile, The Times gave white supremacists exactly what they want. We should use Fausset’s mistake — and the general public’s response to it — as a reminder to stay vigilant.